Mormon-Catholic pairing makes for historically unique GOP ticket

by Tommy Firth

With the choice of devout Catholic Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, has arguably crafted the most religiously unique ticket in presidential history. Both religions have interesting precedent in presidential politics, however, with varying degrees of success.

John F. Kennedy was famously the first and only Catholic to be elected president. Less than two months before the 1960 election, JFK addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in a hope to allay fears that the pope would use him as a conduit into American politics.

Mitt Romney's father, George, also a Mormon, was a serious Republican candidate for president in 1968. Most political observers believe he didn't get far enough in the process to have his Mormon faith fully examined or questioned. Perhaps facing a more determined press than in '68, Mitt's Mormonism was questioned in his first run for president. He, like JFK, felt the need to address his faith publicly and did so in December 2007.

While the ticket may be religiously historic in nature, bias against the Catholic and Mormon religions is at similar levels today as it was in 1960 and 1967. In a May 1960 poll, Gallup found 21 percent of respondents wouldn't vote for a well-qualified Catholic candidate. In April 1967 after George Romney announced the formation of an exploratory committee, 17 percent of Gallup respondents said they would not vote for a well-qualified Mormon. And in June of this year, an almost identical 18 percent of Gallup respondents said they would not vote for a well-qualified Mormon.

Romney briefly referenced his running mate's religion in his opening remarks Saturday, describing Ryan as a "faithful Catholic" who believes in the dignity of every human life.